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I have occasionally noticed that an author chooses to share publicly referee reports from a journal, usually because they are feeling aggrieved about a rejection. I also know that now and then people do share reports with (a few) close colleagues or friends.

What is generally considered good/bad conduct regarding sharing reports? I would hesitate to share my reports widely, mainly because I associate that behavior with cranks (as it seems to be cranks who publish them) and would worry that it might come across as sour grapes and unprofessional.

Are there any clearer guidelines or reasons why we should keep the reports private? Is it considered a breach of confidence of the anonymous referee? Speaking generally, the reports are obviously a vital part of our scientific process, so it is strange that they so rarely see the light of day. Are there arguments within e.g. the open science movement to make all reviews publicly available?

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    An argument against sharing them is that they give information that may allow one to de-anonymize reviewers more easily. If you have all reports written by the same person publicly available, you can recognize a common writing style, formatting, etc., and you can match it to a person by checking the papers they get asked to referee. – Federico Poloni May 13 '19 at 7:30
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It is not common in my field as well to publish the referee reports. I don't think it is a breach of confidence of the anonymous referee; (s)he remains anonymous anyhow. My guess is that scientists are human too, and when they receive criticism of their work they want to get it over with as quick as possible and then forget about it...

There are arguments for publishing all referee reports: An article does not become "scientific" because it is written by someone with a PhD or someone employed by a university, but because we give enough information that anyone can reconstruct how we reached our conclusions. Referee reports are part of the process, so being open about them would fit.

However, I would consider it unprofessional to selectively share referee reports. That decreases the openness of the process, as now the reader starts to wonder why this report is shared and the others are kept secret.

I have refereed once for a journal (BMC Medical Research Methodology) that had a policy of publishing the non-anonymous review reports with the article. I actually liked that process: there was interaction with the authors to make the article better. What is important for this question, is that that interaction is public so the reader can see the development of the article.

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What is generally considered good/bad conduct regarding sharing reports?

Journals generally dictate their own policies for sharing referee reports. In many cases, sharing the report with anyone other than the authors can be considered a breach of trust. Refer to the confidentiality clause located at the bottom of the email you received containing the referee comments. If one does exist, sharing the report publicly will put you in the wrong and the journal may decline to review future articles authored by your person.

Many journals may not have a confidentiality clause, but still it is your responsibility to check the For Authors section in the journal website before you share the reports publicly.

Therefore, always make sure you are in the clear before sharing reports publicly.

Having said this, a statement must be made regarding the the types of review that are there. There are three basic types of reviews:

  • Open peer review: You know who is reviewing and they know you too. (Elife)
  • Blind peer review: You don't know who is reviewing, but they know you. (Nature Comm.)
  • Double blind peer review: You don't know the reviewers and vice versa (I cannot at this moment think of a journal)

I do not know of any Hitchhiker's guide to sharing peer review reports. But, if you are sharing the reports publicly, then in order of decreasing importance:

  • If this information exists, remove reviewer names, affiliations and any information that would make the reviewer identifiable.
  • Share the full report and quote it verbatim, this will put you in the clear if some misunderstandings arise later on.
  • Include a confidentiality clause when sharing the report.
  • Our world is very small, it is very likely that someone within your network is your reviewer. So, when sharing the report, do so from the standpoint of an individual who is receptive to the comments.

    Be receptive to comments that are within reason, not the ones which say the author should travel to the other side of the universe, gather some pixie dust, de-constitute and reconstitute it and finally compare it to their pixie dust in three technical and 100 biological replicates.

Are there any clearer guidelines or reasons why we should keep the reports private?

Look above regarding confidentiality clauses and journal statements for authors.

Is it considered a breach of confidence of the anonymous referee?

If sharing the report is not a breach of trust from the journal's standing and information in the report does not clearly identify the reviewer, then no I do not think that is a breach of confidence. But, if I were the reviewer who asked you to gather up some pixie dust, I might get offended and consider it a breach of confidence.

Speaking generally, the reports are obviously a vital part of our scientific process, so it is strange that they so rarely see the light of day. Are there arguments within e.g. the open science movement to make all reviews publicly available?

A comment which is warranted, will be made however unjustified the authors may think the comment to be. For example, if you missed your commas or used wrong statistics, that will be pointed out or can be used as a cause for rejection both in closed reviews or open ones. You will get rejected because you don't come across as a professional person.

Open reviews protect authors from unwarranted comments such as gathering up pixie dust or doing 100 replicates of the same experiment.

At the same time, open reviews improve the article when peers from diverse fields provide their inputs, this leads to your growth as a scientist.

Also, I see a possibility for open review to hurt the peer-review process. When highly renowned authors submit articles for reviews containing very high stakes results, it makes a case for reviews to be closed. In an open review when the author has no peer of equal standing, reviewers may show restraint towards the author to protect their own interests, as the author may be a person who is reviewing their grant applications.

This may be an unpopular view, but academia just like life is an unfair place.

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Your question is how should you behave. Not should reviewing be open.

I recommend not to share reviews especially adverse ones. It looks like sour grapes and it violates either explicit or implicit confidentiality.

Plus it just makes you look weak. A better response is just to move papers to other journals. And quickly so soon as you see a holdup situation. Not get involved in long wrangling.

Try to write the papers as matter of fact as possible. Clear writing. Follow notice to authors instructions. Don't try to hide weakness or claim something sexy that isn't.

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